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Expanded Course Description
In 1992, Art Spiegelman won widespread critical acclaim—and a Pulitzer Prize—for his Holocaust narrative Maus, demonstrating that a comic book could be taken seriously as an important work of literature. Since then, many creators have followed Spiegelman’s lead, taking advantage of the unique representational possibilities of the graphic novel to examine issues of identity and family history in the context of world historical events. This course offers a survey of some of these late 20th and early 21st century graphic novels, considered in the contexts of contemporary cultural theory. Students will be required to think about the complex ways in which images and texts work together to create multiple layers of meaning, and to explore the relationship between art, culture, and politics (including the politics of race, gender, and sexuality).
This course meets the qualifications for Arts & Letters Group-Satisfying status because it allows students to trace how a new art form grows out of its predecessors; to analyze the relationship between arts and letters in a cross-media form of expression; to apply theoretical texts to works of art in the process of developing their own arguments and interpretations; and to see how literature and visual arts offer unique vantage points for wider cultural understanding. The graphic narratives on the syllabus explore questions of identity familiar to college students (coming of age, reflections on familial, cultural, and religious identity), but they also place questions of identity in an international context. The intimate form of the graphic memoir can open the door to understanding global issues like religious intolerance, immigration, and the traumas of war. Course readings in cultural theory will help students understand and define what a culture is, and help them explore the relationship between culture (defined as literary and visual arts) and culture (the shared social practices of a given era and place). The course belongs at the upper division level because of the sophistication of the required texts in cultural theory and the complexity of themes and allusions in several of the graphic narratives.